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The 296 GT3 makes its debut

Nine months after its first ignition, the Ferrari 296 GT3 debuts at the legendary Daytona 24 Hours on the iconic Daytona International Speedway circuit
Words: Luca Giraldi

Life consists of hope and dreams, some of which are destined to take on a special flavour. 281 days after first starting up the engine for the shakedown at the Fiorano track, the 296 GT3 is ready to make its debut. A special debut marking the dawn of a new era for the Maranello-based manufacturer in the world of endurance racing. 

The setting is that special, iconic venue, the Daytona International Speedway. The race is the legendary Daytona 24 Hours. A challenge within a challenge for a car conceived a mere few months ago, because tackling a day-long endurance race is no mean feat. But it is definitively not something to frighten the technicians and drivers at Maranello. 

Watch the 296 GT3 roar in its testing session ahead of the Daytona 24 hours  

“It is not easy to make your debut in a race like the Daytona 24 Hours with a new car,” confirms world champion Alessandro Pier Guidi, one of the drivers most involved in testing the car, “but I think that together with the team we have done a good job in terms of development and we are optimistic, but that does not mean that it’ll be all downhill. We’ll have to find out a lot of things in the race that are different to the things we tried during testing, such as driver-change operations.”

Among the most active, not only in the development sessions but also in the Roar Before the 24, a test session ahead of the eagerly awaited IMSA series opening race, has been Davide Rigon. The driver from Veneto, reigning IMSA Endurance Cup champion, waxed lyrical about the new arrival. 

Alongside the 296 GTB and out on the racetrack. 281 days since its first test at the Fiorano track, the 296 GT3 takes to the Daytona circuit to mark a new era for Ferrari in the world of endurance racing

“The car is behaving well at Daytona and the sensations have been really good over the very first laps, even though we have had to optimise the set-up and find its limits as we go along. We have been testing the car on high-speed sections and also on mixed stretches, where the 296 GT3 has reacted well, but the work is not finished, in fact it has barely begun.” 

“We are getting to know the car better on this track which, by the way, is one of my favourites,” echoes team-mate and reigning champion, Daniel Serra, who has also been deeply involved in the project over recent months. "I have put in thousands of kilometres in the 296 GT3, and I think it is easy and really nice to drive, even if we have to verify its competitiveness in races. It will be the result that certifies the quality of the work done.” 

Life consists of hopes and dreams. For the crew and drivers, the upcoming debut race will be when all of the things that have been tested so thoroughly back at Maranello on the Fiorano circuit become a reality  

A fast-moving, intense programme, carried out at carefully selected tracks aimed at putting different aspects of the 296 GT3 under pressure and involving all the official Competizioni GT drivers. But, as varied as the tracks are, none of those chosen have the potential to recreate the notorious banking at Daytona, unique in the world of motorsport for its 31-degree of inclination. 

“At Daytona power and speed is needed for banking and straights,” explains Alessio Rovera, at the first date of what will be a particularly busy year for the 296 GT3.

“While on the infield section we need an agile car. Compared to the 488 GT3 Evo 2020, the 296 GT3 is smaller and that could give us an advantage there. The elevated sections of this track are undoubtedly very particular due to a number of factors that put the car’s efficiency under a lot of strain. It is still too early to say if we will be able to pass this test with flying colours. The journey to get here has been long and demanding, with almost a year spent clocking up kilometres testing the car’s reliability, aerodynamic and dynamic efficiency.  We’re proud of the work that’s been done and hope that the result rewards the effort put in by the team.

The sun sets on the Daytona International Speedway as the 296 GT3 completes its testing session out on the legendary circuit 

James Calado is one of sixteen drivers set to race one of the four units entered in the event, alternating with Serra, Rigon and Pier Guidi at the wheel of the Risi Competizione entry. For the world champion, one step away from triumphing in 2018, the new Ferrari offers a fresh chance to battle for the win.

“It is great to be at Daytona with the 296 GT3. It is a really nice car to drive although we’ll have to be realistic as we will have to see how it acts over the course of the weekend. We don't know how reliable the car is in general compared to those of our rivals, or how it will perform in the race, but we do know that it has great potential and so it will be up to us drivers to try to get the most out of it.” 

The Florida track has brought plenty of joy to Ferrari in the past, with the historic side-by-side finish in 1967 one of the highlights, but this time it will be called upon to give a special meaning to the hope named 296 GT3.